The Natchez Uprising

Artist: CeCe Givens

Storyteller: James B. Borders IV

Human history from the 15th-20th centuries is dominated by Europeans’ unrelenting encroachment on and theft of land and natural resources in the “new world” and the “global south”. Though chicanery was deployed from time to time to accomplish these aims, military brutality was the invaders’ primary tool of conquest and control. The native peoples who were supplanted, dispersed or eliminated were generally at a technological disadvantage when it came to waging war against these adversaries. Psychologically, too, the occupants were sometimes slow to grasp the unmitigated greed of these new arrivants from across the sea – a greed that was hard to fathom in a land of abundance. There was plenty for everyone; that was clear. But since some people had already established long-standing domain over certain areas, the newcomers would have to find open, unclaimed territory or places generously granted to them by the natives if they intended to stay.

That line of thinking was wasted on these hordes of adventurers, however. They routinely just took what they wanted and killed anyone who dared protest. These Europeans possessed superior weapons of destruction and they fought to the death. It is not surprising, then, that they were overwhelmingly victorious in their battles year after year, century after century, place after place, until they could proclaim complete sovereignty over entire continents.

Nevertheless, every now and then the underdogs in these confrontations struck a blow for justice and gave their boorish rivals a bit of momentary comeuppance. This was the case with the Natchez Uprising of 1729.

During the early part of the 18th century when the French claimed control of the lower Mississippi River Valley, they established a military settlement near the traditional home of the Natchez Indians, 175 miles northwest of New Orleans. The French had selected the area as their tobacco-growing region and forced the native people to be part of the undertaking’s labor force – along with imported Africans. But when a new commander demanded possession of the main Natchez village to annex to his own plantation, the natives stalled the Frenchman until they could plan a proper response.

On the morning of November 29, 1729, they made their move and attacked the French fort and other living quarters, killing 230 white men but sparing women and enslaved Africans. This revolt was a major blow to the fortunes of the French and helped contribute to the collapse of the Company of the Indies, which had a contract with the French monarchy to economically exploit the territory. The Europeans later waged a retaliatory campaign against the Natchez using Choctaw (aka Chahta or Chata) and African forces (an alliance they later regretted fostering).

The fighting went on for several years, forcing the Natchez eventually to seek refuge among the Chickasaw, then the Creeks and, finally, the Cherokees before disappearing as a distinct people by the mid-1730s. In the meantime, the French repossessed the Natchez lands, which remained under white control thereafter. A hundred years later, the town named Natchez had become a major trading center for enslaved Africans working in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta.